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11 April 2011, 15:26

The H Half Hour: Talend, Open Core and Community

Ross Turk is the new director of community at Talend , a company that's not afraid to say they use an open core model. In this H Half Hour, The H asks Turk about how the open core model works at Talend and how the company is building a community around its data transformation and management tools.

Talend's most notable open source product is Talend Open Studio, an application which lets users create applications which can pull in data from a source, extract relevant elements of it and push it onwards into a database or some other service. The tool itself generates code and uses plug-in style components to connect different platforms. The company has expanded into the enterprise to offer features aimed at scaled up organisations such as company wide repositories and automated deployment and management.

Open core is a business model where a company offers a core element of their software as open source but then, by leveraging their ownership of the code, offers proprietary versions of their software. It has come in for criticism and even been declared over. But companies such as Talend are still working with the open core model and are setting out to expand their community.

Ross Turk has been Director of Community at SourceForge and Alcatel-Lucent; he joined Talend in January this year to take on the challenge of building the company's community.

The H: What drives Talend to go for an open core model?

Ross Turk
Talend's Ross Turk
Source: Ross Turk
The open core model allows us to bring powerful technology to the communities that need it while ensuring that the company is healthy enough to maintain a competitive product.

There's a delicate balance, though; the features in our commercial edition are specifically designed to be useful to large companies with complex projects, but more than the community at large might need. In other words, our product strategy is to create commercial demand for our enterprise features, which fulfil specific use cases that are likely to be uninteresting for non-commercial users.

The H: But this brings up an interesting question. One of the advantages of open source, considering the whole lifecycle rather than the acquisition end of it, is a lack of lock-in and the ability for a customer to disengage from a vendor with less penalty. What you describe is a situation where those open source benefits are not available to enterprise customers. How do you address that for those customers who do go the enterprise route?

RT: Our commitment to open source isn't just a marketing strategy; Talend Open Studio was our first product, and continues to influence everything we do. Because the open core model allows us to earn a premium for specialised features, we've been able to grow and expand our company very quickly and, consequently, release large amounts of open source technology in a short amount of time.

The hardest thing about building an open core product is making informed decisions about which features are universal and which apply only in commercial situations. In order for an open core company to be effective, that needs to be a topic of ongoing debate. We spend a lot of time and energy fine-tuning that part of our strategy because we understand that, if we get it wrong, we jeopardise everything we've accomplished so far.

The H: Does that discussion take place in the open or within Talend? If the latter, have you considered doing it in the open to counter the suggestion that you may be keeping "the good stuff" back?

RT: It's not taking place completely in the open, no, but it's not only happening within Talend. We have frequent discussions between business management, community advocacy, product marketing, and our customer advisors to make sure we're well-informed. I'm always open to discussions on this topic in our forums, and our team isn't afraid to revise the strategy if it's not working.

I can understand being a skeptic of this model because I'm a skeptic myself. I have seen a lot of companies do it badly and lose the respect of their communities or – worse – slowly allow their belief system and strategy to decay until, one day, they end up becoming just another obsolete proprietary software company. I am at Talend because we're one of the only companies I know of that has achieved a good open core balance, and I want to help them successfully make the model work at a larger scale.

The H: Do you think it benefits the customer?

RT: I think that having community editions of our products makes them far more flexible than their proprietary alternatives, without question. Among other advantages, customers can deploy them without establishing a commercial agreement.

Open source isn’t just about source code; it has become an ethos of its own. Consequently, being an open source company means more than releasing code under an OSI-approved licence. Customers expect us to be more transparent, more collaborative, more honest, and more flexible. We have to live up to that! Because the community editions are GPL-licensed, we're highly motivated to give our customers a good experience. If we don't, someone else will.

The H: Open Core is seen as a model with severe issues when it comes to customer freedom, especially where the customers’ freedom to disengage with a vendor is concerned. How does Talend address that?

RT: First of all, there's no format lock-in with Talend. Jobs created with our commercial edition can be opened, edited, and executed with the community edition products (development capabilities that are exclusive to the enterprise version won't work, naturally – but the jobs will), and it's our intention to keep it that way. There's no proprietary voodoo.

There have been customers who no longer needed our enterprise features and decided to return to the community edition, and we feel pretty strongly about maintaining that flexibility. We want happy customers, not revenue hostages.

Next: Foundations, assignment and the long tail

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